Young cancer survivor beats diagnosis and track and field records on path to the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games
Lacey Henderson was just nine years old when her leg was amputated above the knee in a lifesaving measure after the diagnosis of a rare soft tissue tumor in her knee. It was a tough time for a young girl, but Lacey’s focus wasn’t on the negative. Instead, raised with the mindset that if you want something in life you’ll find a way to make it happen – no matter the odds against you – an energetic and active Lacey didn’t hesitate to take on the toughest of challenges, including highly competitive cheerleading in high school and at the college level for Denver University.
It was just four years ago that the 26-year old began competing in track and field for the first time since her amputation, and she is quickly making her mark. Currently the American record holder in her competition categories for the 200m and the long jump, Lacey also has her sights on breaking the American record for the 100m.
It’s been a whirlwind of contests, adventures, and victories over the months, and Lacey has to smile every time she reflects on how unceremoniously it all began.
“My dad, TJ, is a national decathlon champion who also went to the Olympic trials for pole vaulting and coached that field event for years. Knowing my competitive nature, he began goading me one day about how he was obviously the superior athlete in the family and bet me that no way could I, as an amputee, ever pole vault. And you guessed it. I took his bet and the next thing I know I’m clearing a six foot vault on my very first try and am immediately hooked on the feeling of flying. I really only began running as a way to train to become better at pole vaulting. I never imagined I’d be competing in track races all around the world!”
Competing for a spot at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games has meant plenty of foreign travel and putting her career goals on hold, but that’s just fine with Lacey. With a bachelor’s degree in Spanish, a minor in French and International Studies, and a future Master’s Degree that she hopes will one day land her a job with the US State Department overseas, Lacey feels at ease just about anywhere.
But when she is back home in the US, that is also where her heart is. Mindful that her experiences can make a powerful difference in the lives of others, Lacey has joined forces with ccThrive as an ambassador working to redefine what it means to survive childhood chancer. She also devotes considerable time to mentoring teenage girls dealing with body image issues exacerbated by their limb differences, letting her example guide them to a greater confidence and recognition of their endless potential.
Lacey’s athletic goals include medaling in her track and field events at the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games and long term her hope is to garner the participant support needed to bring pole vaulting to the summer games as a sanctioned event. But, her ultimate goal? To not waste any opportunities that come her way to be an example of what’s possible, even in the toughest of situations.
“I hope my life experience can help others. I always share that life is so happy, just embrace it and recognize a blessing in disguise. You, too, can learn to fly.”